The Top 5 Historic Street Food Spots in Beirut

Sweets on display at a stand in Beirut
Sweets on display at a stand in Beirut | © alixanaeuphoria / Flickr

Diving into Beirut’s street food culture is more than just a way to eat some authentic cuisine – it also gives visitors a window into the city’s fascinating past. From Armenian food brought by refugees to falafel shops borne out of fraternal rivalries, Beirut’s street food scene is a product of its long and varied history. Although malls and luxury stores have replaced many traditional family shops in Beirut, the city still has plenty to offer diners in a hurry, especially those who also want to learn a thing or two. Here are the top five street food spots offering up a taste of Beirut’s past.

1. Get a taste of Beirut’s civil war history at Falafel M. Sahyoun

Sandwich Shop, Street Food

© Michal Kranz

Few street food places in Beirut have such a legendary past as M. Sahyoun. In fact, this spot is not one, but two shops right next to each other, owned by two brothers who make some of the best falafel in the city. During the Lebanese Civil War, they operated one shop in Christian East Beirut and one in Muslim West Beirut, and family members had to cross the Green Line, a no man’s zone between the two, to get from one to the other. Today their shops sit right along where the Green Line used to run, but relations are definitely not cordial – the two are no longer on speaking terms and have become rivals. Although they supposedly make the same falafel recipe, word on the street is that the older shop, the one featuring blue lettering, is slightly better.

2. Sample lahme baajin, Armenian style, at Ichkhanian Bakery

Bakery, Street Food, Pastries

Freshly made lahm biajiin at Ichkhanian Bakery
© Michal Kranz

After the Armenian Genocide during World War I, hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled to Lebanon, and today the country has the largest Armenian population of any country in the Arab world. Although most Armenians living in Lebanon today are concentrated in East Beirut and neighboring Bourj Hammoud, perhaps the oldest existing Armenian street food spot in the city, Ichkhanian Bakery, is located in West Beirut. This is a place that first opened its doors in 1946, and serves a fusion of Armenian and Lebanese dishes that reflect the two peoples’ shared history. A prime example is Ichkhanian’s most famous dish, lahme baajin – although this is a classic Lebanese snack, this bakery offers its own version with typical Armenian spices and pomegranate sauce.

3. Experience pre-war Beirut at Al Antabli

Ice Cream Parlour, Juice Bar, Dessert Shop, Dessert

© Michal Kranz

If you asked anyone in Beirut before the civil war about Al Antabli, located in downtown Beirut, they would reminisce about enjoying fresh fruit cocktails and sweets from the classic shop during the summers of their childhood. The place was a Beirut staple since it opened in 1936 until the war forced the shop’s owner to abandon it and move elsewhere. Finally, after years of exile, he was able to reopen Al Antabli in its original location downtown in 2011 as part of the glitzy Beirut Souks. But unlike the luxury stores around the shop, Al Antabli proudly continues to offer its classic menu at reasonable prices, and today tourists and old regulars alike can enjoy a taste of pre-war Beirut for the equivalent of two or three dollars.

5. Try Amal Bohsali’s age-old knefeh recipe from Ottoman days

Bakery, Pastry Shop, Dessert, Pastries

Little remains of Beirut’s Ottoman history, but you can still find glimpses of this past at Amal Bohsali, a sweet shop business with two locations in West Beirut that dates all the way back to 1878. Its most famous dish is cheese knefeh, a sweet pastry popular across the Levant. But in a testament to the open flow of culture that took place under the Ottomans, the Bohsali family makes its knefeh in the style found in Nablus, Palestine, which today is inaccessible to most Lebanese due to immigration and travel restrictions. The sweets here are so good that during his stay in Beirut around the turn of the century, the famed Egyptian writer Ahmad Shawqi mentioned them in a poem. Locals say the quality is just as good now as it was then.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Edit article